The Quakers had a change of scenery as they fell to St. Joseph’s in the final of the 21st annual Liberty Bell Classic, played Tuesday night at Citizens Bank Park.
It was an ideal night for baseball and the energy was palpable from both dugouts, but the Hawks ultimately prevailed, 6-3.
This was the first trip to the Classic final for the Quakers and the second appearance but first win for the Hawks. Each had a beat a field of local rivals La Salle, Villanova, Delaware, Temple, Lehigh and Lafayette for their respective spots in the title game.
“We didn’t play winning baseball tonight,” coach John Cole said. “But it’s still a step in the right direction in this series because we got good wins off La Salle and Villanova. Those are two great clubs.”
While critical of his team’s performance, Cole also recognized that the Quakers were at a disadvantage going into the game because of the two doubleheaders they played against tough league rival Princeton over the weekend. The Hawks, by contrast, played in three single games and had more time to rest between contests.
“The Tuesday game is tough for us because we just came off four games over the weekend,” Cole said. “The guys are tired, the pitchers are tired, my catcher’s been catching every game. It’s hard for them to turn right back around and play in a game like this.”
When assessing his team’s performance, however, Cole did not cut the Quakers any breaks.
“We gave away a lot of freebies, a lot of walks, hit by pitches. We gave them a lot of opportunities to score,” Cole said. “Bottom line is, we’re not scoring runs on hits right now, we left the bases loaded three times and we need to swing the bat better.”
The Quakers had three runs on six hits to the Hawks’ six runs on eight hits. Penn, however, stranded 11 on base, and nine of those 11 runners were left with the bases jammed and two men out.
Because his pitchers were spent from the long weekend, Cole went to the bullpen early and often. The Quakers used nine pitchers to the Hawks’ five, and only two of the Penn pitchers, freshmen righthandder Sam Horn and lefty Ronnie Glenn, threw in two consecutive innings.
The Hawks got on the board in the third inning when Penn pitcher Patrick Brennan let up a two-run homer to Hawks rightfielder Greg Kumpel — 363 feet into the left field bleachers.
The Quakers answered in the top of the fourth inning when catcher Austin Bossart scored on an error.
St. Joe’s tacked on another three runs in the bottom of the fourth to extend the lead to 5-1.
Despite loading the bases again in the top of the fifth, the Quakers would not score again until the sixth, when they got two runs on an RBI groundout and on a steal of home by leftfielder Brandon Engelhardt. He was neglected while the Hawks were preoccupied with rightfielder Ryan Deitrich, who was caught in a rundown between first and second.
Despite the loss, playing in Citizens Bank Park was still a dream come true for Deitrich, Engelhardt and designated hitter James Mraz, who all hail from the greater Philadelphia area.
“I’ve grown up watching the Phillies play at this park, and this whole week I’ve been watching games looking over at first base, second base and thinking, ‘Yeah, I’m going to be over there in a little bit,’” Mraz said.
Engelhardt, who led off the game with a single, was “super excited” to get a hit in the major-league ballpark of his home team.
“I was the first batter in the box, so my heart was racing. But once my left foot stepped in the box, it was just like any other game,” Engelhardt said. “But all the anticipation leading up to playing here was amazing.”
For the senior Mraz, the game was probably the only chance he’ll have to play on a big-league field. He hopes the younger players on the team will get to experience it again next year.
“It’s great for us to show the younger guys that this event exists,” Mraz said. “Sometimes in the Ivy season you lose focus of the fun stuff, the fun parts of playing on a team like this. Hopefully it’ll be us with that trophy next year.”
Cole echoed his senior’s sentiment.
“Next year, I’d like to get back and do it again right.”